The (Sci)X Factor

The 2017 “Great Scientific Exchange” provided fascinating insights into some of the toughest challenges facing analytical science – and the world.

By Matthieu Baudelet, Assistant Professor, National Center for Forensic Science/Chemistry Department, University of Central Florida, USA.

December 2017

It is always a great pleasure to attend SciX – but this year was made all the more special for me, because I was the program chair. And I felt lucky to be able to work with an incredible team that included Becky Dittmar (general chair), Mike Carrabba (exhibit chair), Rob Chimenti and Mark Henson (workshop chairs), Karen Esmonde-White (award chair and program chair 2018).

Our community of analytical chemists is confronted by many challenges. Issues such as gender equality, research in developing countries, and helping young scientists to succeed have never been more important, and events like SciX can act as a central platform to address these challenges.

With this in mind, a new section was created: “Contemporary issues in analytical science” (chaired by Rebecca Airmet). It covered the role of analytical scientists in fighting world poverty, how to increase diversity and equality, and helping students in their education and transition to the job market.

Food safety was a major focus this year in many sessions, with the opening plenary talk given by Janie Dubois, chair of the Laboratory Capacity Working Group at the World Bank’s Global Food Safety Partnership. She brought our attention to real problems that the analytical community has helped solve already, but also the new challenges we face as a society.

The critical thinking we rely on as scientists has taken a hit in recent years. The abundance of information, genuine or false, and the speed of access to it, have led to a new generation of students who have not been trained to think as critically as we once were. This shift is being seen in classrooms as well as everyday life, and we were glad to welcome two wonderful speakers for our closing session: Panayiota Kendeou, from the University of Minnesota, and Jevin West, from the University of Washington. They both used their lectures to attack misinformation and misconception, and discussed how we can counter them and clearly communicate our research. Jevin leads an effort with Carl Bergstrom called “Calling Bullshit” (http://callingbullshit.org) that teaches us all how to critically evaluate the information we receive every day in this age of big data.

We are all part of one society, one community – and I believe we should contribute not only with our scientific work but also through direct involvement in charitable initiatives. SciX started a new operation this year to give back to the community with the Wednesday evening gala that included a fundraiser for the Renown Children’s Hospital in Reno, allowing us to present a cheque for USD $4,500 to delighted hospital staff.

SciX has shown again this year that it is a conference unlike any other. We are a growing family and, as such, we are looking to strengthen our bonds, invite new members and further extend our knowledge. So I will take this opportunity to invite everyone – students, teachers, professionals and researchers – to join the SciX family and see for yourself what makes this such a special event. SciX 2018 will be in Atlanta, GA (21–26 October), and our first European SciX will be this Spring in Glasgow, UK (17–20 April).

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